Charities voice support for government's smokefree plans

23 October 2023

Charities, academics, health leaders, local government and medical royal colleges met with the government on October 19, 2023, and voiced their support for the government’s plans to create a ‘smokefree generation’.

The prime minister recently announced plans to introduce a historic new law to stop children who turn 14 this year or younger from ever legally being sold cigarettes in England.

Neil O’Brien, the public health minister, and Professor Sir Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, hosted a roundtable bringing together key stakeholders to discuss the details of the proposed legislation. They also discussed the challenges around youth vaping, and what can be done to prevent children from using vapes while also ensuring they remain available to adult smokers as a quit aid.

Neil said, “Smoking kills, and this government is committed to taking action to protect a generation of children from ever experiencing the harms associated with tobacco.

“Working with our stakeholders to deliver this historic legislation will be vital, and I will continue to engage with these organisations to create legislation that prioritises the health of the next generation.”

Attendees included members of the Smokefree Action Coalition, a group of over 300 organisations across the UK committed to ending smoking. The coalition is coordinated by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).

“Smoking is the UK’s biggest preventable killer - causing around one in four cancer deaths and 64,000 deaths in England alone - costing the economy and wider society £17bn each year.”

Chris said, “Smoking causes significant health harms at every stage of life - including stillbirths, many cancers, heart disease, stroke and dementia.

“To improve smoking-related ill-health, it is important to both ensure people do not become addicted to smoking and that those who smoke are supported to overcome addition.”

The meeting was due to be attended by:

  • Alzheimer’s Research UK
  • ASH
  • Association of Directors of Public Health
  • Asthma + Lung UK
  • British Heart Foundation
  • British Medical Association
  • Cancer Research UK
  • Chartered Trading Standards Institute
  • Diabetes UK
  • Faculty of Public Health
  • Fresh and Balance
  • Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership
  • Humber and North Yorkshire Integrated Care Board
  • Local Government Association
  • London Tobacco Alliance
  • Lullaby Trust
  • Mental Health Foundation
  • Mental Health Policy Group
  • National Voices
  • NHS Confederation
  • Richmond Group of Charities
  • Royal College of Midwives
  • Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
  • Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
  • Royal College of Physicians
  • Royal Society for Public Health
  • Sands
  • Spectrum Research Consortium
  • Yorkshire Cancer Research

Hazel Cheeseman, Deputy Chief Executive of ASH, said, “We believe that enacting this groundbreaking smoking legislation is paramount in our ongoing battle to end the profound harms smoking causes our society.

“This meeting was an opportunity to voice our support for the government’s plans.”

Sarah Woolnough, CEO of Asthma + Lung UK, said, “This is a critical moment for lung health. We will do everything we can to protect the next generation from the deadly impact of tobacco, and to help push through these life-saving smokefree plans.”

Mark Rowland, CEO of the Mental Health Foundation and co-chair of the Mental Health and Smoking Partnership, said, “The government’s plan to create a smokefree generation could not be more welcome. 

“While the toll smoking takes on our physical health is well known, it is less well known that it is bad for our mental health, too. 

“We know from international experience that the sort of approach proposed by the government is highly likely to be effective, so this will be a real step forward in protecting our country’s mental and physical health.”

Councillor David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said, “Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of ill health and mortality in England.  

“Councils know the devastating harm that smoking inflicts on their communities and the importance of continuing to drive down smoking prevalence.

“The goal of a smokefree generation no longer seems out of reach and we want to work with government and others to achieve this.”

Susannah Kerr, head of public affairs at the British Heart Foundation, said, “People who smoke are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared with people who have never smoked. It’s a deadly addiction which has caused serious illness and death for far too long. The government’s plans to create a smokefree generation have our full support.”

Professor Sanjay Agrawal, the Royal College of Physicians’ special adviser on tobacco, said, “The government’s proposals to tackle the increase in uptake of vaping among children and never-smokers are a welcome step. This roundtable was a good opportunity to discuss how measures can be implemented in a way that avoids the potential unintended consequence of discouraging adult smokers from quitting.

“Since we identified the link between smoking and cancer in the early 1960s, the RCP has been at the forefront of efforts to curb the harms of tobacco and delivering this legislation will be key to protecting future generations.”

Dr Ian Walker, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy, said, “This legislation is a critical step on the road to creating the first generation free of tobacco, the biggest cause of cancer.  At Cancer Research UK we’re committed to working with the government and our partners to get this legislation passed.”

The proposed new legislation will make it an offence for anyone born on or after January 1, 2009, to be sold tobacco products. It has the potential to phase out smoking in young people almost completely by as early as 2040.

In addition to discussing the proposed legislation, the government is also taking action to support current smokers to quit for good, including by:

  • More than doubling the current funding for stop smoking services, investing an additional £70m a year to expand locally delivered and cost-effective services - this will support around 360,000 people to quit smoking
  • Provide an additional £5m this year and then £15m a year thereafter to fund national marketing campaigns to explain the changes, the benefits of quitting and the support available
  • Rolling out a new national ‘swap to stop’ scheme - supporting one million smokers to swap cigarettes for vapes - the first national scheme of its kind in the world

The government also launched a consultation on both the smokefree generation and on new measures to tackle youth vaping - including proposals to restrict flavours and descriptions of vapes so they are no longer targeted at children.

While vaping is rightly used by current adult smokers to help them quit, the government is concerned by data showing that youth vaping rates have tripled in the last three years.